Q: My 8-year-old Golden Retriever licks his leg in the same spot all the time and now it's bare, hard and oozing liquid. I thought saliva was good for sores, but it won't heal. If I bandage it, he rips it off. What should I do?
A: See your veterinarian now, while the problem is still small. This is the beginning of a lick granuloma and they can be very difficult to get rid of, especially if they are advanced. Dogs may start to lick for various reasons, such as boredom or a small sore. Although saliva has some healing properties, there can be too much of a good thing. The constant irritation and wetness lead to infection in the skin, hair loss and the buildup of a type of scar tissue that includes some odd nerve endings, causing the area to itch or tingle, drawing the dog back to lick some more. It becomes a vicious cycle of worsening, with the skin getting thicker with deeper infection and more itch, plus a habit develops of licking the area. Treatment generally involves stopping the itch with cortisone and/or antibiotics and breaking the habit with bad tasting sprays or a large plastic collar. Sometimes surgery is necessary or drugs like Elavil may be helpful. Very severe ones may become a permanent problem that can only be managed, not cured.
Melinda R. Burgwardt, DVM
Boy or girl?
Q: I inherited an Amazon parrot from my grandmother. No one knows for sure if it's a male or a female. Is there a way I can find out?
A: Yes. Some of the pet bird species show sexual dimorphism (different physical characteristics between the sexes), such as differences in feather color, eye color or nostril color between male and female. Often there are behavioral differences as well. Unfortunately, other methods are often needed to determine sex in many pet birds, including Amazons. Of course, if your bird lays an egg in the cage, you can stop there. A brief surgical sexing method has been used. This procedure must be performed by an avian veterinarian and requires anesthesia. In recent years, genetic sexing has become a safe, accurate and affordable alternative. A drop of blood is collected and analyzed at a laboratory. It will be important for you to know the sex of your bird if you plan to breed it. Also, knowledge of a bird's sex can play an important role in the diagnosis of disease since common problems of the female reproductive tract can be eliminated in a known male bird. In addition, pet birds undergo behavioral changes as they mature; these changes can be better understood if the sex of the bird is known.
Laura L. Wade, DVM
Death separates cats
Q: One of my cats has kidney failure and is slowly failing despite treatment. It will soon be kindest to put him to sleep. My other cat is inseparable from him, shares everything, and they always sleep practically on top of each other. Would it help Missy to deal with losing Max if I brought her to Max's euthanasia? (I will be leaving him for cremation, so I won't be bringing home his body.)
A: We do not know how much these animals understand about death. Although most cats and dogs seem to be simply at a loss for their normal routine when another pet disappears, occasionally one will do something that appears to be deeper than that. We also know that elephants stay with their dead for up to two days. In the absence of any proof one way or the other, I suggest you do bring Missy along but in a carrier. Let her be out of the way during the procedure so that she is not upset at your distress and so that you and the doctor can focus on saying goodbye to Max gently. Then let Missy out of her carrier to see and smell Max's body if she will. (I have done this before and find most surviving pets take little or no visible interest, but occasionally one does.) At home, remove Max's toys and belongings to give Missy a clear signal that he is gone. If Missy seems to search for him, try to establish new routines that include her and give her a little time to get used to them. If she doesn't seem to settle in consider getting her a new furry friend.
Melinda R. Burgwardt, DVM